The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
There was once a superintendent of schools in a little town in Kansas. He didn’t make much money, but he scraped together enough to buy his girlfriend a diamond ring. It must have cost him a king’s ransom back then. So they got married, moved to Los Angeles, and as time and people passed, that ring was handed down through the family. Until it came to me, the diamond ring that was given to my great-grandmother by my great-grandfather all those years ago. And once again, that diamond was given to a girl and they got married.
Now, it’s an odd thing. That ring didn’t cost me a dime. It was simply given to me. A gift that was earned by someone else and simply gifted, reckoned, bestowed upon me. And yet, and yet, it is not free. It actually costs us quite a bit. When I gave that ring to Maggie, of course we had to get a new setting for it. Then we had to get it appraised. And then once we got the appraisal, we had to buy insurance for it. Which we pay annually. But beyond that, we have to keep it safe at home. So it needs a jewelry box, preferably one that is secure. For being a free gift, that diamond ring sure does cost a lot. To say nothing of what it represents – commitment, devotion, fidelity.
A free, but costly gift. It’s an odd equation, I know, but it’s the truth. The same was true for another young couple a long time ago on the other side of the world. They had received a free gift, a gift of a child, a child simply given by the Lord God; though they were unwed, though she was a virgin. In the story tonight we hear the great love of Mary and Joseph for this new baby Jesus, carefully wrapping him in swaddling clothes and doing their best, under strange circumstances, to provide for this child. A free gift of love.
And yet, and yet, we know that babies are not cheap. This free gift comes at a great cost. For Mary and Joseph, far from home, Jesus would have represented another mouth to feed. Another consideration when they were making their way back to Nazareth from Bethlehem. Where would they get clothes for this baby? How would they care for him? It is not hard to imagine Mary and Joseph scraping together what little they had to afford the free gift that had been given to them.
As was true for them, so it is true for us. This child, born on Christmas, is the most important gift we will ever receive. This child is the one through whom the nations are healed. This child is the King of the Jews, the true Shepherd of the flock, the one anxiously awaited for. And yet, to follow this one, to worship this baby Jesus, to live the Christian life, comes at a great cost. This free gift demands everything from us. It means that we will have to pray, day by day; worship, week by week; we will have to sacrifice our treasures, our time, our very lives. This free gift that we celebrate tonight comes with a great cost; the cost is loving God and our neighbors. This sweet, innocent child who is wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger is the same one who will demand that we pick up the cross and follow him. What begins here in Bethlehem in a manger, surrounded by angels and shepherds will end on a hill outside Jerusalem on a cross surrounded by soldiers and scoffers. The cost of this free gift will be paid in blood. This free gift costs everything.
Consider carefully the gift of Jesus in your life. Can you afford it? Can you afford to give your life to God Almighty? Can you afford to follow Jesus to the cross? Can you afford to surrender all that you have and all that you are for the path of love? Can you afford to bend the knees of your heart and forgive others as you have been so freely forgiven? Before you take this free gift for granted, consider carefully the cost of it all. For the Christian life is not cheap.
It is not cheap, but it’s worth every bit of it. When that insurance bill comes every year for Maggie’s diamond, we pay it gladly. Tonight and tomorrow morning, you will go home, and you will open some Christmas presents. They will be free gifts to you, but they will come with a cost. That new sweater will need space in your closet. The candy will take its toll on your waistline. You know the dreaded phrase – “batteries not included.” Free doesn’t mean cheap. And that is the great theological truth of this night.
And rather than asking whether you can afford this costly gift of Jesus in your life, consider this – can you afford not to accept this gift? This gift, this gift of love, and grace, and connection is the single most important gift you will ever receive. This gift we receive tonight, this gift that is laid in the manger, means that we can live in joy, it means peace. It means that you can stop trying to earn love. It means that God understands you, and that God is with you. Can you afford to live any other way? Would you want to live any other way?
Treasure that gift. Honor it. Don’t treat it so cheaply. It was given to you at great cost because it is of great value. The surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ the Lord.